St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Good and Empty Heart

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (8:5-15)

The Lord Jesus speaks to us today about soil. Soil represents the internal state of heart and mind. Are we open and receptive, which is another way to say are we “empty”, is there any room in us for God or are we too filled with ourselves to receive him?

The empty heart is one that is vigilant, observant, silent, dynamic, and loving. The empty heart is an open heart, always ready to receive and always ready to give. This is the heart of faith and Krishnamurti tells us that this faithful and empty heart is one that “will never bring about a deception with itself.” 

A faithful heart is a heart that receives everything with joy.  It is a heart that is unafraid, that has taken many steps along the narrow path of the Gospel.  It is a heart that has learned to let come and let go, without clinging, without craving, without judgment, a heart filled with faith and brimming with compassion. These are qualities of the heart of the good and faithful servant.

We all know people like this. We are drawn to them. We are comforted by them. They are purveyors of hope.  Pope Francis comes immediately to mind.

Or do we have hearts that are closed, hardened and full of themselves, that have no room for growth, who fear change, that bristle with self-defense, fear and worry?  This is the heart of one who craves and clings and judges and who may not even know he is doing these things. This is the heart of one who has no self-awareness, whose eyes are blinded with pride and who is crippled with an overriding concern for his own security. This fearful heart has no room for faith since faith demands letting go of control and fear always clings.

Jesus lived a life of absolute self-denial, of letting go and embracing the will of God moment by moment.  His life is the model for us. St. Paul writes of this most beautifully saying that, “Though his state was that of God, yet he did not deem equality with God something he should cling to. Rather, he emptied himself, and assuming the state of a slave, he was born in human likeness.  He, being known as one of us, humbled himself, obedient unto death, even death on the cross.”

St. Paul tells us that Christ had one operational mode: he continuously emptied himself. “He emptied himself taking on the form of a servant” and then he kept emptying himself even more unto death on the cross. 

Of course, it should come as no surprise that Paul encourages us to do the same.  “Have this mind in you that was also in Christ Jesus,” he writes.  This remarkable descent is our model.  It was a descent of love the same descent we are called to emulate.

I came across something very interesting in my reading this week.  In fact, it affected me deeply. It shook me.  It is a little litany for contemplation and prayer that gets at the heart of the transformation we need in order to make true Christians of ourselves. It challenges us to go deeper to strive for an authentic change of mind.  I have to thank Cynthia Bourgeault and her book THE WISDOM JESUS for this.

If instructions came attached, they would sound something like this.  Find a quiet place to sit, still your mind, breathe deeply and regularly and when you have achieved some stillness of mind repeat after me:

“Lord, I let go my desire for security and survival.
Lord, I let go my desire for esteem and affection.
Lord, I let go my desire for power and control.
Lord, I let go my desire to change the situation.”

This litany represents the practice of surrender of ourselves, of our very lives, into the hands of God.  It is in this act of surrender than we meet him in a most intimate and personal way.  We come as we are and meet him as he is and the intimate union begins for there is nothing left standing in the way. 

I also ran across a beautiful quote from Ram Dass, who was a most interesting and lovely soul. “I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion and where it isn’t, that’s where my work lies.”  I do not know of a more Christian statement than that.  And what is it that hinders us from living such a perfect life? The desire for control, power and esteem are the very things that cause us to be selfish, competitive, and unloving, so I think focusing on letting go of them is key to our spiritual growth.